Bigger, Better and Beyond the Book?

I was introduced to Dr. Rozlyn Linder’s blog today by a friend.  She’s the K-12 District Literacy Specialist in Douglasville, GA and an avid advocate of the Common Core State Standards.  Today she opined that those of us who are critics of the Common Core, in particular, the ELA standards are uninformed and we need to read the standards.

She wrote:

As a proponent of the critical analysis shift demanded by Common Core I regularly speak out about the divergence from teaching the canon and centering all instruction on works of fiction. As I read blogs and posts I have finally come to realize that there is a serious misconception about what it means to teach skills rather than text. Battle lines are being drawn that demand that teachers get on fictions side or the oh, so, awful side of informational text. This fierce call to battle is misguided and ironically built on a failure to read—the actual Common Core standards.

I agree.  Read the standards.

The topic of concern for many of us is the chart on pg. 5 of the ELA standards.

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It’s in the standards.  It’s certainly being misinterpreted, and unfortunately it is being applied to literature classes.  Something that Common Core folks fail to understand is that kids get plenty of informational text in all of the other classes.  Almost 100% of their reading is informational text.

I’m not against reading informational text – we all do it every day.  What I’m not thrilled about, and Dr. Linder does nothing to alleviate my concern, is the introduction of more informational text into Literature class of which she makes a passionate defense:

I love literature because informational text taught me how and why. I did not just curl up with the Scarlet Letter because I was told to. In fact I never read it in high school. Oh, I pretended to. I aced that test with the best of them, but I did not love it or like it. I was reading Sidney Sheldon and Malcolm X at my desk instead. It wasn’t until I became a teacher and I looked out at faces like mine, holding cell phones, and readily accessing information with the twitch of a thumb that I knew I needed to find out why Scarlet Letter mattered because I was told that for six weeks I should probably teach it. How? Our class read the Harold Bloom critical analysis first (informational text). We read the reviews of Demi Moore’s version of the book and searched IMDB for the risque’ photos and summary, again reading sometime scathing reviews of the film.. We even read comparisons to the pop culture version the Big A. We knew the full story before we ever opened the book. We read why this was significant and we read with critical eyes, challenging assumptions, and questioning as we went. At the end, some rewrote the ending; others wrote essays defending the book as a classic, while some crafted narratives about the characters back stories or lives after the end. Others created Prezis showcasing two different ways to view the protagonist. We laughed, we argued, we complained that these word choices ‘sucked’ and why they seem that way to us, but why they could be interpreted as exquisite. My kids may not love the Scarlet Letter but they know it, understand it, and ‘get’ why it matters. Would they get that through literature alone? Doubtful. Common Core is just asking teachers to think bigger, better, and beyond the book.

Is it just me or is she advocating for kids to read informational text that teach them what to think rather than how to think?  Unfortunately when you read a critic or a review you are coming to a piece of literature (or anything really) with a presupposition.  If a teacher wanted to guide students to learn about the context of a piece of literature, for instance give an introduction to the life and times of Puritans prior to reading The Scarlet Letter or a biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne I could understand that.  What she’s advocating I can not.  By the way I’m not a fan of The Scarlet Letter either for a variety of reasons that don’t pertain to the subject matter we cover here.

I don’t want teachers to think bigger, better and beyond the book because I want them to teach the book.  I want them to educate, not indoctrinate.  Teach kids how to think, not what to think.  I would hope Dr. Linder would want the same.

Putting that aside there’s the whole matter about how they were written and implemented avoiding local input and the democratic process, but that’s a whole different blog post.